A hiccupping cat is one of the cutest things around, but it can also be quite distressing for a concerned pet parent. It’s natural to want to keep your tiny new companion safe, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear a cat lover ask questions like “Why does my cat hiccup?”, “is it normal?”, and “How can I make the hiccupping stop?”
Hiccups are completely normal for cats. In fact, cats begin to hiccup in the womb before they are even born. Theories suggest that the hiccups are a way for the developing cat to exercise its respiratory system and related muscles. Hiccups are more common in kittens but can occur in adult cats.
What is a Hiccup?
First, let’s talk about what these strange sounds actually are. A hiccup is defined as an uncontrolled spasm of the diaphragm. This involuntary “twitch” causes inspiration (breathing in) of air that is quickly blocked by the closure of the glottis, part of the “voice box.”
The diaphragm is a muscle that separates the chest (heart and lungs) from the abdomen (contents of the belly including the stomach, liver, intestines and more). It enables the lungs to bring in air during inspiration.
In a normally breathing cat, the diaphragm is pulled down toward the abdomen as the cat inhales (breathes in) to allow room for air to go into the lungs. When a cat exhales (breathes out), the diaphragm moves toward the chest and helps move air out of the lungs.
What Causes a Cat to Hiccup?
Hiccups often occur throughout the day in healthy cats. They can last for seconds to several minutes before suddenly stopping. Cats will commonly hiccup after eating or drinking, especially if they do so quickly when they gulp their food. Hiccups are also associated with hairballs. The theory is that the nausea can increase the cat’s breathing rate, which can stimulate the diaphragm. Eventually, most kittens grow out of their hiccupping habits, and the majority of adult cats seldom get hiccups.
How Does a Cat Hiccup Look?
- A typical cat hiccup may appear as a spasm in their abdomen that cause the cat to have a small muscular jerk to their abdomen or chest and a small almost “burp”
- There should be NO distress to breathing
- There should be NO laboring to the respiration
- Your cat should NOT appear distressed
IMPORTANT: Please make sure the cat is indeed hiccupping. If your cat has their neck extended, their respiratory rate is increased, in any way seems labored in their respirations or shows you any other evidence of trouble breathing – please call your veterinary immediately. This is a medical emergency.
What Should You Do When a Cat is Hiccupping?
Hiccups are normal and not harmful. If your cat is having hiccups that have continued for a prolonged period of time and you want to intervene, the best thing is to gently comfort your cat. Don’t talk loudly or scold them in any way. Hiccups are a normal bodily function that your cat can’t control, so don’t punish them for something that’s not their fault.